Recently, my husband re-connected with an old college friend he hadn’t seen in years. As it turns out, when they reconnected many of their mutual friends wanted to have a small reunion. That led to a dinner invitation extended to not just the guys but their growing families, as well- and a very special take-home gift for me: olives from the Holy Land.
First, I should explain that an invitation is something Muslims are highly recommended to accept unless there’s a very valid reasons to decline (i.e. a previous commitment, an illness, etc.); not because you simply don’t want to go. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in this recommendation because I experience the blessings in it all the time.
The reason I mention this is because in this occasion, I had some reservations about going. It’s not that I didn’t actually want to go; I just didn’t know any of the ladies personally. You see, among Muslims it’s common for women to socialize in an area separate from the men, although in the same house, which can make the not-knowing-anyone-situation a bit uncomfortable. You can’t turn to your husband to talk to when everyone else knows one another and has something in common they’re talking about…
Maybe that’s a good thing.
In this occasion, all the men gathered downstairs and the women up, although they came around to serve themselves when it was time to eat. By that time, I had already been well-acquainted with the women of the family who invited us, including the very hospitable mother of my husband’s friend, Umm Sameer.
Umm Sameer comes from Palestine, where she visits frequently and still has a home and her own olive trees, alhamdullilah (thank God). Although she speaks very little English, we were able to communicate with a lot of hand gestures and my broken Arabic mixed in with her familiarity with common English words. We made it work because we wanted to know more about each other; she was genuinely interested in me and I felt the same about her.
I find people like her fascinating.
I could see a story in her eyes- she has a history, a culture, a family, a lifetime of experiences. And, as it turns out, we both have a passion for food and gardening, as we figured out slowly due to her very nice daughter-in-law’s patience in translating our many conversations throughout the evening.
At the end of the night, just before getting ready to leave, Umm Sameer emerged from another part of the house with a bundle wrapped in foil and said it was for me. When I opened it, I nearly cried.
They were hand-picked, cured olives from her trees in Palestine. In The Holy Land.
From her home.
Close to her heart.
She noticed that I was fascinated by them at dinner when they dotted a plate close to the hummus, set nearby the Middle Eastern salad and the large plate of delicious maqlooba. Of all that amazing homemade food, it was the olives that struck me because she told me their story personally- and her story, too. From her heart.
As a result, I left with amazing gifts- not just the olives, but the people, the heartfelt human connection…all from the blessing of an invitation that I realized I needed to honor.
I am so very glad I did…
What about you- would you resist an invitation to attend a gathering where you don’t know anyone at all?